The International Space Station had its first component launched in 1998, and has been gaining additions up through 2011, with more additions slated for 2018 and 2019. Over the course of its lifetime, the United States Government has spent nearly $100 billion to build and operate the ISS. According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration plans to put an end to this funding:
The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.
The document explains that the government will maintain and fortify the station over the coming years in order to smooth the transition to a private entity that will take over ownership. NASA, private companies, and other entities will then negotiate and pay the private entity for the right to use the International Space Station.
The move isn’t totally unprecedented. As it stands today, NASA spends billions of dollars annually to pay Boeing to operate the station. The company has outsourced cargo supply flights to SpaceX and Orbital ATK since the Bush administration. So there is already private partnership involved with the ISS.
One of the biggest problems comes from the international cooperation with the ISS through the years. Russia, Canada, Japan, and more countries have spent time and resources in order to augment the ISS over the years. Turning the station over to a private entity will raise questions about what those countries are owed, and the lack of governmental oversight will very likely cause problems. At this point, we’re unaware of how the situation will play out:
The internal NASA document has scant details over how the privatization of the station would work. As it prepares a transition plan, the White House said it “will request market analysis and business plans from the commercial sector and solicit plans from commercial industry.”
It will be interesting to see how this plan plays out – though the operation of the ISS is costly, if there is money to be made then the US would be foolish to back out now and cut the losses of billions of dollars they’ve sunk into the ISS. It stands to reason that no private entity would take it on unless there is a chance to turn a profit, so it makes little sense why the US would get rid of it now when the ISS might finally pay off.